Christmas Negotiations and holy causes


When preparing a recent talk on the topic of Mediation, I came up with the usual conflict charts, diagrams, and some necessary scientific research as a means to address some basic stuff on conflicts. The presentation looked professional and nice.

Then I wrote intuitively on one slide: "It is very difficult to deal / negotiate with someone who fights a holy cause".

It was this particular personal topic, not the scientific charts, that raised the most curiosity from my audience. People raised their hands. ‘What to do in such cases?’ ‘How to deal with someone who is convinced he/she is doing the right thing, for the sake of family/business/team/country, and will enforce their preferred outcome?’ We had a lively discussion.

Some food for extra thoughts in the context of the coming December weeks:

Christmas Holidays

The coming days we'll have lunches and dinners to organize or negotiate (maybe we did this already) for Christmas. Whose house, amount of people, meat/fish/veggie?

Do we give presents or not? Can we take our dog? Do we stay overnight; everybody in the same cramped house? And in The Netherlands: first or second Christmas day?

You might find yourself in situations where just being flexible - Mr or Mrs Nice Guy - has not worked and will not work. So, what to do? was the question of my audience. When things are very hard to negotiate, and your find yourself stuck - it helps to realize the following:

  • You have a conflict on values. These misunderstandings deal with culture & identity etc. These are hard to debate, because the origins reach deeper and threaten to affect this identity. Compare the Israeli - Arab conflict.  Suggestion: take more time, to sit back and listen. Enter into a deeper conversation about the background of the particular matter. Try to talk about the values, that lay behind this fixed mindset. Share our own version of these (family or other) values. Agreement is not always needed, just some basic understanding to open up.

    When people really listen, there is more room for goodwill.


  • You are dealing with a so called "Competitor". In my experience this person can be very considerate, social, sweet (etc). Not always the typical aggressive lawyer, sales guy, fighter type. They think in Win-Lose mode. Compromise seekers can expect very little, if no, reward for their cooperation in a negotiation. A competitor will not compromise; it is not in their vocabulary. Being flexible is seen as following and therefore will cause a competitor to step into his/her natural role of leading the way: their way. Suggestion: step in a more leading role (see: the Rose of Leary). Behaviour creates counter behaviour. Leading creates following. So, take initiative. Be the first to propose dates, make suggestions, start with invitations. 

Have a peaceful and warm holidays!

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